Endangered Sawfish Focus Of National Collection And Recovery Efforts

Custodian of the world’s shark attack records, the University of Florida, is also now overseeing a national records set for another toothy marine predator: the sawfish.

“Postcards from the turn of the 20th century often depicted this so called monster that inhabited Florida waters, and if one looks at paper accounts from areas outside Florida and goes back, each time a sawfish was caught it made the papers,” he said. “ Today, it’s hard to find a bar in South Florida that doesn’t have a sawfish ‘ tool’ hanging on the wall.”

A crucial part of Florida’s fauna, the sawfish once swam in rivers, lagoons and bays extending from The Big Apple to the Rio Grande, Burgess said. Its decreasing numbers have made it the primary species of marine fish to be put on the list of federally endangered species and today, its American range has shrunk to Florida, he said.

A team of scientists in the Florida Museum of History on the UF campus along with Burgess plan to use info from the sawfish database to further accentuate a management plan developed to aid speed the species’ recovery.

The National Sawfish Encounter Database is a compendium of all known historical and current records of sawfish in the United States, Burgess said. With present Florida Museum of Natural History records, databases formerly placed with the Mote Marine Laboratory in Sarasota, the Florida Fish and Wildlife Conservation Commission and two private sawfish enthusiasts are being joined, he explained.